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Overview

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner is used to take images of parts of the body such as the head, abdomen, or pelvis in any direction as clinically indicated. An MRI is used to provide better soft tissue contrast and it can differentiate between the different soft tissues of the body as well as the differences between water, fat, and muscle.

How does it work?

An MRI scanner uses large magnets that spin around extremely quickly to take the images needed for doctors to assess the patient. 

Unlike X-rays, MRI does not use ionizing radiation so patients are not exposed o the harmful effects of this radiation.

Are there health concerns regarding MRIs? 

There are no health concerns regarding temporary or short-term exposure to MRIs, but this imaging technique does involve emitting a strong magnetic field that changes with time and there are some safety concerns that one should be aware of.

These include:

  • The strong magnetic field produced by the scanner will attract any product or material that is magnetic in nature. This can include anything from a paper clip to a trolley becoming possible projectiles. These objects may be hurled around the room causing damage to the scanner or, more importantly, the patient so care should be taken to make sure that all such objects should not be present in the room where the scanner is located.
  • The mentioned issue will also be problematic for patients with any internal magnetic devices such as cardiac stents, pacemakers, artificial joints, and cochlear implants and they should avoid receiving an MRI as the scanner may cause these devices to malfunction or be pulled out of the body. Patients should just make sure that any such devices are identified as MR Safe or MR Conditional.
  • The magnetic fields can cause loud knocking or banging noises so ear protection should be used.
  • The peripheral muscles may be stimulated which feels like the anatomy is twitching.
  • Long-term exposure to an MRI can cause the body to heat up so this should just be noted.
  • The MRI scanners tunnel is narrow which can cause some patients to feel claustrophobic and this may make them anxious enough to potentially hurt themselves by accident.
  • Some contrast dyes that are injected into the patient to cause certain soft tissues to become more visible may cause an allergic reaction.

Are there any adverse events associated with MRI?

Adverse events associated with MRIs are very rare.

Millions of MRIs are performed in the United States every year and the FDA receives 300 possible adverse event reports every year that include issues with the machinery itself rather than just issue pertaining to patients.

In terms of patient-associated issues, thermal injuries and second-degree burns tend to make up the majority of complaints. Other issues are the mentioned possible metallic objects becoming projectiles (which is a preventable issue if the correct safety measures are followed), patient falls from the scanner, fingers being pinched, and ringing in the ears or even hearing loss from the noise made by the scanner.  

 

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